Two new opinion polls show the emergence of a two-way race nationally between the Conservatives and the Liberals primarily because of signs of an "orange crash" for the NDP in Quebec.
Ahead of Friday evening's French-language leaders debate on TVA, a Léger poll for TVA, Le Devoir and Le Journal de Montréal placed the Liberals in front nationally at 32 per cent, followed by the Conservatives at 30 per cent and the NDP at 26 per cent.
Those results are similar to the latest daily tracking by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail and CTV, which has the Liberals leading with 33.5 per cent support, followed by the Conservatives at 31.9 per cent and the NDP at 25.9 per cent.
Léger surveyed 2,107 Canadians online, including 999 individuals from Quebec, providing a larger sample from that province than is normally the case with other national polls.
What Léger found in Quebec is that the NDP has lost 10 points in the province in the past week, which continues a downward trend. Support for the NDP in Quebec stood at 28 per cent, followed by a two-way tie for second with 24 per cent support for both the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals. Support for the Conservatives in Quebec stood at 21 per cent.
Christian Bourque, Léger's executive vice-president, said the NDP still has time to turn its fortunes around, but a prolonged slide in Quebec could also hurt the party's support in the rest of Canada. "If people in the rest of the county perceive that there is now an orange crash in Quebec, that might actually modify some voters' decisions in the rest of the country," he said.
Mr. Bourque said that if the current numbers were to hold in Quebec, that would mean the Liberals would gain seats in and around Montreal, the Conservatives would elect more MPs from the Quebec City area and the Bloc Québécois would win back seats in more rural regions of the province that it had lost to the NDP in the 2011 election.
"The downfall in the NDP has helped all three [other] parties. They're all trending up," he said.
The results come in the middle of what will be a very important few days for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. On Thursday, he recorded an appearance on the popular French-language talk show Tout le monde en parle that will air Sunday. Former NDP leader Jack Layton's appearance on the program during the 2011 campaign was later viewed as a contributing factor to the "orange crush" that saw the NDP make unprecedented gains in Quebec.
The second and final French leaders debate on Friday evening is also expected to be a key moment in the campaign, particularly for Quebec voters. The controversy over the niqab appears to have influenced voting intentions in Quebec. The Conservatives announced in mid-September that they would appeal to the Supreme Court after the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the government's appeal of a Federal Court ruling that struck down the Conservative ban on face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.
The Conservatives knew that their position on the niqab was popular because the government commissioned a survey by Léger in March that found 82 per cent of Canadians supported the policy that women show their face during citizenship ceremonies. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has said only two women have so far declined to go ahead with the ceremony because of the niqab ban, which took effect in 2011.
The Conservative focus on issues such as the niqab has attracted negative attention as well.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who is Muslim, attacked the Conservative approach as "dangerous" and "disgusting" this week in an interview with SiriusXM.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley also weighed in. "I really just don't think minority rights ought to be a political football," the provincial NDP Leader told CTV's Power Play on Thursday.
Conservative candidate Jason Kenney defended his party's position on Friday during an appearance in Dartmouth, N.S. "The niqab represents a medieval tribal custom that reflects a misogynistic view of women," he said. "It is not a religious obligation in Islam and to suggest otherwise I think is very problematic."
The Nanos survey, which is based on a smaller sample size for Quebec, shows a bigger lead for the NDP in the province, with 36.2 per cent support, compared with 23.5 per cent for the Liberals, 19.8 per cent for the Conservatives and 17.5 per cent for the Bloc.
The Nanos survey is based on a three-day rolling sample of 1,200 interviews. The Quebec numbers are based on 268 decided voters. A subsample of that size has a larger margin of error and is considered accurate to plus or minus 6.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The national Nanos numbers have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The national numbers for Léger are considered accurate to plus or minus 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.